The more I have witnessed and become acquainted with the stories of couples, both married and unmarried, the more I am convinced that cheating is both an art and a science. Let me explain. Popular culture has done a great job at magnifying the notions of a great passion and the pursuit of the forbidden. As a matter of fact, many of the familiar stories of great passion tend to be intricately dove-tailed with some aspect of the forbidden. From the old tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, to Cinderella, to the very real story of King Edward VII who abdicated the British throne for love, the common thread seems to be that great love and passion are just outside the reach of the common man. In other words if we want to experience that great passion that seduces us, then we’ve got to be willing to surmount any bridge or barrier to get there.
If we just listen to any number of the love songs of today’s popular culture, then we could easily become convinced that our very reason for being is love, passion and don’t forget sex. These things represent the honey which we humans follow like bees. The barriers to our romantic and sexual happiness however, if we follow the trend of thought of Shakespeare, Hollywood, et al, could be anything from a long-standing family feud, to class differences, to even a wedding ring. Which brings me to the subject of cheating as an art.
I am sure that if I were to carry out a poll, all of us would admit that the idea of us being cheated on in a marriage or romantic relationship, rubs us the wrong way. We just don’t like the idea of being taken for a ride. No matter what the casual sex proponents say, those of us in serious relationships want to believe in the promise of sexual exclusivity. Yes, the idea that my man only gets it on with me, as in ONLY gets it on with me. However, there is a whole other view which is being espoused today. It holds that passion must be pursued at all costs. The chase and capture theme of love-stories (boy running after girl, girl swooning and capitulating even against her better judgement) is a common enough theme for us to get the idea that its quite alright to go after what you want; regardless. Affairs in popular culture have therefore become artsy, romantic, melancholy,wistful and bittersweet. These are qualities that many a woman who is hooked on the romance novel or romantic comedy, is unable to resist.
So being armed with such a philosophy, why should anyone think that something as simple as a wedding ring, or marriage vows, or a serious commitment, or a promise, or pledge or just plain decency, would keep individuals out of each other’s hearts or underpants for that matter? The romanticized ideal about passion and hot, forbidden sex, has somehow grabbed hold of the psyche of many people out there searching for relationship utopia. Remember that song “Me and Mrs. Jones”, (we’ve got a thing going on)” or better yet Whitney Houston’s “I’m Saving All My love For You”? These songs, among many others, did and continue to do a very good job at romanticizing infidelity. Their underlying suggestion is that the love or passion being shared is so special, that the individuals would do anything to keep this special something “going on”. I believe that the individual who cheats either has a particular relationship philosophy or is seduced into seeing relationships in a particular light. I do agree that there is diversity among cheaters. People do not cheat for the same reasons but all who cheat do begin from a point of similarity. Basically, they lack relationship integrity. It is nonetheless interesting to perhaps examine some of the thinking behind this behaviour called cheating.
These cheat because they have been cheated on. (I guess this is where the laws of science come in, something like A+B=C?) They have been hard done by and they intend to go for the jugular. It is likely that such an individual has been hurt so much that they have not even processed their pain. All they know is that they want revenge and perhaps want to enjoy it too. The down side of playing tit for tat, is that the underlying issues are never dealt with. The brief satisfaction felt in having that “eye for an eye” is ultimately lost when it is realised that returning hurt for hurt does not eradicate pain.
There are those who just believe that the grass on the other side is greener, healthier, free from chemicals and organic to the bone, I mean blade. They just are into taste-testing and make no apologies for it. At the heart of this Columbus syndrome is not only a deep dissatisfaction with the spouse or partner but a deeper dissatisfaction with the self. A man doesn’t just pursue another skirt because he wants to test a new vagina. He wants to test himself in a new scenario. He wants to prove that he can chase, woo and conquer (just in case he forgot). He wants to know that he hasn’t lost his skill; especially if his wife treats their sex-life like the last thing on earth that she’d want to participate in. (And I’m not giving the guy an excuse to cheat lest I be misread). Women too can be motivated by a need to re-prove their sexiness and failure to pay attention to the old car in the garage just makes the new car in the show-window seem even more attractive than it actually might be.The affair becomes then an easy cop-out in a relationship where the garden has not been carefully tended.
Why those who are addicted to sex bother to tie themselves to any one person I will never completely understand. Could it be that marriage or being involved in a long-term relationship offers them the ruse of respectability while they really explore the deeper, darker side of their personality? The Tiger Woods of this world have an insatiable desire for sexual variety that is in no way connected to traditional relationships. It does not mean that a sex addict is not able to appreciate having a spouse and a central point of reference from which from which he or she can navigate. The central point is just not enough when it comes to the sense of sexual fulfillment because addicts need constant sexual variety to feed their habit. For them the high of sex is used for medicative purposes or sex becomes a form of escapism. It is used to cover other personality deficits. Such an individual is therefore unable to be faithful unless these underlying issues are addressed.
Many affairs begin because individuals fail to erect emotional boundaries in their relationships. They are either emotionally needy and their current relationship does not cater to this or even if it does, they make the error of dropping their emotional guard with someone else. Although not exclusive to women, this phenomenon is perhaps more common among them than men. In the same way that we have a driving sexual centre which cries out for fulfillment, we also have an emotional centre which must be addressed in our relationships. This centre cries out for affirmation and validation. When this need to be affirmed is ignored because our spouse fails to listen to us, we can often inadvertently look to others to fill this void. If we are a woman and this person is a man, then the emotional bond with another has the potential to create a sexual attraction which if not brought under control, can lead to a full-fledged affair. The same holds true for the guy who gets loads of attention from a specific woman in the office. If there is a missing emotional connection with his wife or significant other, then he becomes vulnerable to creating an emotional tie which can lead to sex.
The thing is that emotional fidelity is quite lethal on its own even when sex is not involved. Some believe that as long as they’re not having sex then there is nothing wrong with pursuing a close emotional bond with another. While the potential for such a relationship to evolve into a sexual one is always on the horizon, even if it never does, such ties rob the primary relationship of the type of emotional energy that is needed to cement and distinguish it as being “set apart” from all other relationships. If this issue is not addressed, what will develop is a case of divided loyalties which will undermine the primary relationship. This spells disaster with a capital D.
These affair profiles are not exhaustive by any means. The truth is that some will cheat just because they can do it and get away with it. It’s called human selfishness. Some will do it just for the fun of it. Of course they are the “Relationship Imposters” who are really immature and selfish and really not emotionally ready for any serious commitment. The good news is that fidelity is not outside the ambit of human behaviour. Many new studies point to the benefits of monogamy. If the energy and creativity that are needed to make an affair work and preserve its secrecy, were perhaps applied to our primary relationships, then probably the effort alone would bring us a sense of hope and renewal.